The Powerful Benefits of Plyometric Training
Summer months are near and the warm weather brings exercise participants out into the sunshine, surf, and sand. If you are pressed on time and interested in changing up your workout regimen to reap the results of a complete body transformation for improving fitness levels, exercise experts weight in on the benefits of plyometric training, as well as the risks to prevent injury, and examples of exercises that can be done anywhere sans expensive gym memberships.
“Plyometric exercise is a conditioning format that is designed to improve muscular force and power through quick, powerful movements. When done correctly, over time it can help to decrease the impact it forces on the joints” says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist for the American Council of Exercise.
Plyometric training can be one of the best boosts your body needs for staying in shape. Discovering the reasons athletes and fitness novices become so attracted to incorporating plyometric training to greatly impact the results from their workouts in many ways inspired us to collect further research from the top trainers. It is not a new system of training nor should it be considered a 2012 fitness fad that will be wiped off the mat by next season’s sweat session. Plyometric movements pump out the inner athlete in us all to go bigger and to be the best that we can be for longevity.
If you’re up at midnight and turn on the tube to find fitness infomercials it is very likely the names, Tony Horton or P90X might sound familiar. No sweat if not, but Tony Horton’s weighty resume of training and inspiring millions of people worldwide. Many athletes, students, soccer moms, seniors, military troops, and video consumers credit Horton to transform their bodies with his rigorous workout regimen that is suitable for almost all levels, after gaining a doctors approval. The popular P90x workout fitness video series where Horton coaches participants to challenge their fitness levels in a variety of cardio, strength training and flexibility workouts to powerfully strengthen the muscles especially the cardiovascular engine by taxing the legs and lungs!
“Keep the EGO out of every exercise and just do your best” says Horton. Plyometrics is great for endurance athletes to increase muscle power, speed and endurance.
Renowned exercise industry expert for leading fitness products companies (NIKE, BOSU, Nautilus, Stairmaster, Schwinn, IDEA, and GATORADE), worldwide fitness convention presenter, and celebrity trainer Jay Blahnik provides information about this format based on his many years of research training people of all fitness levels about effective conditioning methods to help them reach their mind/body goals. Blahnik, is a master teacher for fitness instructors and creates a variety of fitness formats incorporating options in which plyometrics are prevalent for achieving more bang in the results of a workout. Blahnik outlined a simple way of understanding the complexity about plyometrics between his busy travels of educating sports/wellness coaches across the globe.
Plyometric training originated in the eastern bloc countries with track and field athletes in the 1920s. By the 1970s, it was used as a training method by a variety of other sports, and has become a popular part of many fitness and sport training programs used today. Plyometric training can be described as “reactive power training.” Plyometric training involves powerful muscular contractions in response to a rapid stretching of the muscle. The muscle must first be “loaded,” and then fire an explosive contraction immediately following. Many people confuse “power training” with plyometric training. Plyometric training always involves power training, but power training is not always plyometric. For example, if an athlete jumps onto a box or step, they are performing a power exercise, but not a plyometric exercise. However, if an athlete jumps OFF of a step, and immediately jumps back onto another step, they are performing a power exercise that is plyometric. This is because they quickly loaded the muscles on the jump downward, and then contracted the muscles on the immediate jump back up.
The most basic example of true plyometric training is running. Each step in running requires a loading phase, and then an immediate, explosive contraction phase. By definition, it is impossible to perform true plyometric training exercises on surfaces that are unstable or dynamic, such as on top of a BOSU Balance Trainer, because it is much more difficult to replicate the loading and quick, explosive phase on the unstable surface. You could jump off of a BOSU Balance Trainer onto the floor, and then quickly jump back onto the top of a BOSU, but you couldn’t perform repeated jumps on top of the BOSU Balance Trainer, and gain the traditional benefits of plyometric training. While there are many plyometric exercises that are safe for a wide variety of people, many plyometric exercises are not suitable for the average population, and may have more risk of injury than reward for the individual. For example, jumping off of a step, and then immediately back onto another step repeatedly might be great training for a professional basketball player, it is not likely the safest or most effective exercise for the average exerciser looking to stay in shape and improve general fitness. However, we know that running (again, the most form of plyometric training) can be safe for a wide variety of populations.
Anyone can participate in plyometric type training (after all, skipping, single leg hops and jumping off and on playground equipment is performed everyday by children in the school yard, and these are all examples of plyometric training) but not every exercise is suitable for everyone. So, it is important that each exercise is carefully considered, and the correct progressions are used. In general, anyone trying to improve their athletic or sport performance would likely benefit from plyometric training. And, anyone who simply wants to move more athletically, burn calories, improve their reactive power (even if they don’t play sport) would also benefit from performing a few plyometric drills in their workouts. And some people may even perform entire workouts that are completely filled with plyometric exercises, if they are careful and use common sense!
Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist for the American Council of Exercise says the take away points a novice/beginning exercise participant should know when completing a plyometric workout include the following:
– Given the ballistic nature of plyometric training drills, it is important to first establish a foundation of strength and flexibility coupled with good postural mechanics necessary in order to avoid injury.
– How do you know if you’re ready? Before progressing to high-intensity lower body plyometric drills, studies have suggested that individuals should be able to complete 5 repetitions of squatting 60% of their bodyweight (or able to squat 1.5 times their own weight).
– To reduce the risk of injury, complete plyometric exercises toward the beginning of your workout session (following a dynamic warm-up), while you’re not yet fatigued
– Proper landing technique is key- during jumps, land softly on the mid-foot and then roll forward to push off the ball of the foot. Avoid landing on the heel or ball of the foot, as this can increase impacting forces. Also, be sure to avoid locking the knees upon landing.
– Also when landing, focus on keeping the chest over the knees and the nose over your toes (*this helps to ensure that when you land you are doing so with the trunk slightly leaning forward with the head up and the torso rigid, focusing on engaging the musculature of the core). Also avoid excessive side to side motion at the knee, as the landing forces can be better absorbed by the quadriceps, hamstrings and gastrocnemius (the muscles which support and protect the knee) when the knee is bending in only one plane of motion.
– Allow at least 48-72 hours of recovery between high intensity plyometric workouts
– With plyometric movements, to master movement-patterns, begin with forward (linear) exercises, before progressing on to lateral exercises. From there, backward, then rotation and then crossover or cutting movements can be explored.
Benefits of Plyometrics
– Increases production of muscular force and power
– Research has shown that plyometric training can increase leg strength, balance, acceleration and overall agility
– Helps to enhance reaction time and balance abilities
– Beneficial for those who play virtually any sport
Risks of Plyometrics
– Increased risk of injury if not performed properly (due to the amount of stress placed on the joints, muscles and connective tissues when done incorrectly)
– Poor landing technique may lead to knee injuries so focus on proper landing
Examples of Plyometric Exercises
Blahnik created a sample routine that would take approximately 20 minutes to be performed by someone who is either being supervised by a fitness professional with experience in plyometric training, or an active, fit consumer who is comfortable with this type of movement and style of training.
1. Pogo Jumps for 5 – 20 seconds
Sample video of Pogo Jumps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WRejjmRE9
2. Recover for 10 – 60 seconds
3. High Knee Skips for 5 – 20 seconds
Sample video of High Knee Skips: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhwVYZvUKOw
4. Recover for 10 – 60 seconds
5. Side to Side Jumps (This drill should only be done by experienced plyometric training athletes)
Sample video of Side to Side Jumps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlqhapz-Dw4
6. Recover for 10 – 60 seconds
7. Single Leg Bound (Both Legs) (This drill should only be done by experienced plyometric training athletes)
Sample video of Single Leg Bound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu1Ef72ZDmI
8. Recover for 10 – 60 seconds
9. Side to Side Leg Hops (Both Legs)
Sample video of Side to Side Hops: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QHIk4hW58c
10. Recover for 10 – 60 seconds
Photo credit by David Heisler